Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Franny, the smile and the songbird

We went to a brunch last Sunday celebrating the Tibetan New Year and there we encountered a woman named Franny. Franny wore two gray braids tied with hair so thick she needed no rubber bands on the ends. Her skin was creased as unevenly as a pile of silk and she wore clothing that draped over her shoulders and hips, clinging to nothing. She pulled a plastic flask out of her pocket and poured a clear libation into a small juice glass before acknowledging Opal, who was balanced on Jesse's left hip, sleepy-eyed but approachable.

"Well hello!" She said loudly and too close to Opal's face.

I will never understand why adults feel the need to get so close to a baby when they talk, at a volume that is twice the level they would use for a peer, often grabbing the baby's tiny fingers with their dirty hands--tiny fingers that will end up in her tiny mouth within seconds. Don't get me wrong, I am sure I was guilty of this before I became a mother. But that doesn't stop me from cringing and often physically stepping back when it happens, hoping the non-verbal communication will be heeded.

I made a pact with myself on the car-ride over to this brunch to try and chill out a bit while anticipating the people who would loud-talk, touch and kiss my baby without being mindful of space or germs. I tried to imagine this slathering of attention as being a good thing, a Loving thing. (Germs or not. Space-invasion or not.) People simply cannot help themselves--it truly comes from a place of delight. I try to remember that. And short of staying home for the next three or four years or limiting our interactions strictly to 4 people or less, there is not much I can do about it aside from keeping her as close to Jesse and I as possible.

So by the time Franny had arrived front and center, gleeful and curious, perhaps a bit flushed from the liquid in her flask, I felt relaxed and comfortable with our daughter in my husband's arms.
Franny approached Opal with a gaze that was gently analytical. She stood there looking for a few seconds and softly touched Opal's hand.

Opal smiled.

"Ahh, she smiles." Franny said. Taking on the tone of an oracle in disguise. "Once she begins to smile at the world around her, she has begun to forget where she came from."
Jesse and I were both a bit taken aback--we paused to consider the sneaky profundity, and accompanying heartbreak, of this statement as Opal held on to Franny's pointer-finger with both hands like a songbird grasping at a solid branch for perching.

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